Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, The Big Bang Theory has built up a seriously huge audience since it debuted on CBS back in September of 2007. The show is based around the exploits of two roommates, Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) who share an apartment together and work as physicists at the California Institute of Technology. Leonard and Sheldon are, to be blunt, geeks. They love computers and comic books and sci-fi movies and see Battlestar Galactica as an almost religious viewing experience. They're socially awkward but they tend to mean well and when the series begins, they meet their new neighbor, pretty blonde Penny (Kaley Cuoco). She's recently moved from Nebraska and works as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory while maintaining her notions of someday making it as an actress. Leonard falls for her almost as soon as he meets her, much to the amusement of Sheldon, who is almost asexual in a sense. Rounding out the core group of characters are an engineer named Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and an astrophysicist named Rajesh 'Raj' Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyer), both of whom work at the university and tend to hang out at Leonard and Sheldon's place a lot.
As Penny moves in and gets settled in her new digs, Leonard does what he can to make himself known to her. She quickly realizes that he and Sheldon are different but sees their good nature and latches on to them in her own strange way. Before you know it, Leonard and Sheldon have gone to her ex-boyfriend's house to get her TV back, only to arrive back at the apartment without the TV... or their pants. Tough guys they are not but they help out by bringing some furniture upstairs for her, using math to ease the loading. Sheldon, on the other hand, uses her spare key to sneak into her apartment while she's sleeping and organize things for her - this understandably creeps her out and jeopardizes Leonard's chances with her. It's fun to see Howard hit on Penny, and on any other reasonably attractive woman within sit, and it's amusing to see Raj clam up any time she comes around. Raj and Howard are complete opposites but are close friends.
Leonard eventually works up the nerve to 'sort of' ask Penny out. She thinks she's having dinner with all four of the guys but soon figures out that it's going to be just Leonard and her. Their date goes well until Leonard drops an olive under the table and gives himself a concussion while trying to retrieve it. The early stage of the relationship that we quickly realize is developing between the two is sweet but also very funny. Sheldon, on the other hand, is more content to try and predict the odds that Leonard has of getting into bed with Penny, noting that alcohol and poor judgment can often work in someone's favor that way. As the season plays out the five central characters become better friends and things start to get interesting between Leonard and Penny. Complications arise when Leonard finds Penny kissing a man in the hallway, inspiring him to try kissing a co-worker named Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert - fans of Rosanne will appreciate seeing she and Galecki together again), but it's so scientific in nature when it happens that it does nothing for either of them.
When Sheldon, who is not only proud of his genius but also quite likely to speak his mind about those who cannot match it, meets his new boss and puts his foot in his mouth he gets fired. When he takes up experimenting with luminescent fish in the apartment and starts planning to go into business selling bulk feminine hygiene products, Leonard quite literally tells his mother (Laurie Metcalf, another Rosanna holdover) who shows up to preach to her son and his friends. When she says grace before they eat, she notes that Raj and Howard don't need to chime in unless the Holy Spirit moves them. This gives us a bit of background about Sheldon as she talks about his childhood and his father, noting that he got beat up a lot in his younger days and that he tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to build a death ray at a young age.
Although the show does initially deal in stereotypes - comic geeks, science nerds, the typical ditzy blonde - the characters wind up having more meat on their bones than standard sitcom denizens typically do. As we get to know them, their likes and dislikes, their personality traits and what not, we wind up wanting to know what happens to them. This makes things as goofy as a costume party more important in the grand scheme of the show, while the bickering about things like how Superman is actually able to fly continues to provide comic relief simply because what is inconsequential to most of us is so horribly important to people like Sheldon.
There are questionable aspects about the series if you start to think too long about it. How Penny is able to afford a nice apartment on a waitress' salary while continually moaning about money problems is one, while Howard's penchant for retro seventies style fashions make him more of a would be hipster than a geek. But as far as fun, televised escapism goes, the series delivers. Later seasons would take Sheldon's obsessions to a further extreme, sometimes with great results sometimes becoming predictable, but here in this first season he and Leonard are both interesting enough characters with enough personality that we want to see what happens to them. Penny's adjustment to the 'geeks across the hall' is also interesting to watch, while she's initially completely out of her element once she gets to know the guys she becomes very comfortable very quickly even if she can't always contribute to the discussions and debates about physics and superheroes.
Once you get accustomed to the characters you soon realize that the performances are strong pretty much across the board in this series. Galecki is very good as the somewhat shy leader of the gang, never confident enough to really go for what he wants outside of the laboratory but socially adjusted enough it could be within his reach. Sheldon, on the other hand, is more or less operating on his own planet. His social skills are so poor that he often comes across as a complete jerk, but if you pay close enough attention you realize he does care about his friends very much and despite his constant complaining and correcting, will help them when they need him. The fact that Parsons plays this role as well as he does here is testament to his skill as an actor and his comedic timing, as more of the jokes in the show are centered around him than any of the other characters. Cuoco is a bit flighty in her role at first but as you get accustomed to her you realize that the character is written that way and her good heart quickly becomes apparent. Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyer are both quite funny here as well. As the first season winds down you start to wonder how long the 'Leonard wants Penny' string can provide enough motivation, but the last few episodes start to diverge from there and go in different directions, but more on that once we get to season two.
This two disc Blu-ray set from Warner Brothers contains all seventeen episodes of the first series spread out as follows:
Pilot / The Big Bran Hypotheses / The Fuzzy Boots Corollary / The Luminous Fish Effect / The Hamburger Postulate / The Middle Earth Paradigm / The Dumpling Paradox/ The Grasshopper Experiment/ The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarization
The Loobenfeld Decay / The Pancake Batter Anomaly / The Jerusalem Duality / The Bat Jar Conjecture / The Nerdvana Annihilation / The Shiksa Indeterminacy / The Peanut Reaction / The Tangerine Factor
The AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.78.1 widescreen transfers that Warner have put together for this release make great use of the source material. While this won't always compete on the same level as a feature film in terms of detail, overall the picture quality is quite strong. Skin looks lifelike and natural, colors are well reproduced and look quite good and detail is solid overall. Black levels are pretty deep and texture is good if not reference quality. There are no issues with contrast boosting nor are there any problems with compression artifacts or any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction. If you've seen the show broadcast in HD, you'll at least have a point of reference to compare these discs to but by and large the Blu-ray image is strong, more detailed and more consistent than the broadcast versions.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is fine, and while it's isn't particularly bombastic or enveloping it does make good use of the front channels. Rear channel and surround activity is present but used more for the laugh track than much else. As this is a fairly dialogue-centric show, it makes sense that the audio would sound the way it does here. In regards to the quality, however, there's nothing to complain about. Dialogue is always very clear, there are no issues with the levels nor are there any problems with any hiss or distortion. The theme song sounds good, sound effects have the right amount of punch and for a TV sitcom, things sound just fine here. Optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are provided in German and Spanish with subtitles available in English SDH, French, German SDH, Castillian Spanish and Latino Spanish.
The main extra on the disc is a seventeen minute long featurette entitled Quantum Mechanics of The Big Bang Theory which includes interviews with the cast and with the series' creators. Participants discuss what it was like working on the first season of the show, the different characters that populate the series, and where the influences and ideas for some of the characters and themes in the show came from. Aside from that, there's also a seven and a half minute gag reel included that's worth watching. All of the extras are in standard definition. Menus and chapter stops are included as is episode selection. This combo pack release also includes three regular DVDs containing standard definition version of the same content included on the two Blu-rays, and UltraViolet digital copies of the same material.
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete First Season is light on extras - a few commentary tracks would have been very welcome, or some more in-depth interviews - but aside from that it's a solid release. The audio and video quality is very good and these early episodes of the show hold up quite well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.